He looks me up and down in the dim light that makes it’s way past the intricate golden calligraphy work on the window, trying to work me out. He couldn’t be further out of his depth if he tried.
“What does a pretty girl like you want a book on black magic and necromancy for‽”
This, gentlemen, is not a great opening line, especially when I’m the one holding the folding stuff, and you’re just a jumped up book grocer.
“Never mind the why’s, bub. Just sell me the book!”
His under the breath tut’s spoke volumes about what he thought of me as we made our way over to the register. Hawing and harrumphing, he made a bit of a show of trying to find whatever price he’d penciled in the book. I was already resigned to paying a bit more than it was worth on the open market and for once my cut to the navel dress was failing to work its charms. The book would still be cheap to me. Eventually, he named his price and I dropped a wad of green on the counter. Slipping the book into a plain brown bag, he handed it over, pausing to let go of it as if he was still unsure that a member of the delicate sex should have such a volume. Eventually, he must of decided that I wasn’t going to hurt myself or anyone else and let it go. I turned and left the store, feeling his gaze wander down to my ankles as I went. Who knows what he thought of my scarlet stilettos.
Walking down the alley back to the main street from the shop, I shook my head gently. The beret I had been wearing filled out into something more like what a respectable lady in my line of work would wear. The ruby coloured dress went too. The silk felt nice, but was completely impracticable for today’s work. A white blouse, knee length skirt, and a matching jacket would be better. By the time I’d stepped out on to the street, I’d gone from a hot dame to a respectable working witch. How I pitied those poor superheroes and their need for a phone booth for costume changes.
Threading through the crowd, I looked for a nice, discreet cafe I could hole up in for a short while. I had no time to return home, besides, coffee beckoned. I stepped up into a diner, all chrome on the outside that wrapped around to the inside, and slid into a leather booth that just so happened to match my heels. Let’s face it, with a bit of concentration I could have anything match my heels in a second or two. I nodded to the plate captain to bring a cup o’ joe, settled in, and pulled out the dead tree edition.
To anyone else trying to sneak a peek, it was now a cheap dime mystery, dame in disrepair on the cover, private dick bursting through the door waving a piece. To me, it was my guidebook for the day. My instruction manual. Being good had only got me so far, and let me tell you, I was good. I was the best. I could repair your spectacles without thinking about it. Spelunkers could get lost in my handbag for months. I could make you think I was you and you was me and you wouldn’t know for weeks. But I was good good, there was a line that shall not be crossed. Until now.
I flipped through the book, page after page, cup after cup, until it was hard to tell if the words were jumping on the page from excitement or caffeine. I knew these things could be done, knew I could do them, but that line had always been there. Turning someone into a frog. Making them think they were a frog. Pulling their insides out through their belly button and stringing them up on a light pole. I flicked through the book, slid my finger down these spells and worse. Internalising them all not because I was good at learning, but because deep down good only extends so far. Deep down, I already knew this.
I continued on with the coffee, grabbing donuts to dunk as I went, chapter after chapter, each one darker than the one before. The light outside started dimming as I went on. Maybe night was falling, maybe the light was being sucked out of the world. It didn’t matter. I was getting closer to what I needed, that final spell. I knew I hit it when the page turned with the squeal and wail of a dungeon door, when a rank odour began to spread. A quick flick of my finger and a vase of jonquils appeared on each table. I might be on a descent into darkest of magic, but I’m not inconsiderate.
A quick scan of the page reaffirmed that I already knew this, that I just had to let myself cross that line. I had all the ingredients in my handbag except one, and that would be exceedingly easy to get. I just had to take that first step over the line, accept that I may not return. I didn’t so much step as leap.
I pulled out my wand and with a quick flick all the other diners were gone, cast to the four corners of the globe. It left just me and the waitress. I was quick, she didn’t have a chance to scream, and they’d be able to grow her a new one anyway. If she was lucky, she wouldn’t wake up until they’d finished. Dropping another wad of cash to settle my tab on the register with a nice tip to bide the waitress over, I turned on my heel and disapperated.
I stepped out of the aether in a swirl and tumble of particles to find myself on the end of a jetty on the other side of the country. It was here on a bright and windswept day that I lost my worlds. While canoodling one, the other slipped unseen into the water. The foam folding over her, the fish pulling her away, to play out her childhood with the mermaids. My other half, the canoodler, I later lost to grief and the booze that failed to keep it at bay. He couldn’t bear to be with someone who could raise lamps to the ceiling but was unable to lift our daughter from the ocean, and so he left.
I walked down the steps to the lower level, close enough that the waves broke through the deck every now and then. I reached into my handbag and pulled out my bag of ingredients, my pot, and a small burner. I scooped up some sea water into the pot, placed it on the burner, placed the waitress’ eye into the pot, and lit the burner. For the next hour, I sat and I chanted, cast spells, added herbs, limbs, and scales. I reached out to my daughter, pushing myself out to find her and bring her back to me. I called to the fish, the little ones and the big ones, to bring her back. I screamed at the mermaids to stop playing with her and let her return. I shed enough tears to replace the water I had taken for the pot. I called to the dead and demanded they listen to me. They shunned me.
It was all to no avail.
I lay back on the splintered wood deck, surrounded by squid stains and the bits that should still be inside fish, and stared at the sky. I had lost her forever. I had crossed over, committed evil in the name of good. I was forever tainted. I would be hunted for this and imprisoned. Quite rightly so. Resigned to my fate in a damp and dark stone cell, I sat back up, ready to go back and atone. I packed up what was left into my handbag, poured out the eyeball tea I had made and turned to leave, only to halt at the bottom of the stairs.
My world, my daughter, was at the top.
She stood there, dripping with the water than had changed her not one whit in the last eight years. She was as I had last seen her. We both stood, her at the top and me at the bottom, daring not to move. I dropped my handbag and opened my arms to her, trying to not hope too much. She stared at me just a bit longer and then rushed headlong down the stairs, leaping from half way into my arms, only for her to break against me as a wave against the rock, shattering into millions of droplets that flowed past me. I spun around to face the ocean to her see her once again standing there. Looking at me with such mournful eyes, she shook her head at me, turned and dived into the water.
Back to the fishes, little and big. Back to the mermaids. Back to her eternal childhood.
There be actual inspiration for this one, namely this tweet (with a colour version here). Also, PJ Harvey’s “Down By The Water” has a lot to answer for.